The Blogging Affairs Desk

When It’s Good, It’s Good, When It’s BAD, It’s Better…

Best of The BAD: Bullet Shortage

I’m transitioning into a new gig at my job and because of this things have been and will continue to be pretty hectic for me.  So, as a service to you, the readers, I’ve pulled some of what I consider to be my best article from the past year, and I’m re-running them for a little while.

I will be running new content once a week over at IRdC, as soon as my editors send me some topics.

But yeah, in the meantime, enjoy these re-runs.  This 3000 word article ran back last summer;  it was a report on not only a nation-wide ammunition shortage, but the intricacies of a local gun show.  NPR, eat your heart out.

I hope you enjoy it.

***

I think it would be easier to find a red headed virgin in Rosalita, Mexico who wasn’t suffering from Swine Flu before I’ll ever find 9mm bullets in Southern Maine.

At least, this is what I was lead to believe last Sunday morning while traveling over fifty miles on a motorcycle when temperatures hit 83 degrees before I even left the house.

I made the tactical error of putting on a shit-ton of personal protective equipment – more than necessary, which includes UnderArmor, thick gloves, Kevlar jacket liner, etc – before ever walking out the door of my mother’s house.  By the time I got to my bike, one street over at my father’s house, I was pretty much covered in a thin sheen of sweat.

My objective was simple, though pulling it off would be a beast of a completely different temperament:  I had to find bullets for the new Glock pistol I bought the day before at the local Biddeford Gun Show, a gun show that was once the flagship gun collector’s exhibition in Southern Maine, but since the winding down of the Bush Administration, has somewhat become a shell of it’s former glory.  Gone now are the giant booths with tactical webbing-based vests and shoulder harnesses.  Displays of military-grade firepower that only Level Three Licensees can legal own, gone as well.  Even the old guy with the snow-white beard to his belt buckle, pushing a hand truck with an old Browning air-cooled .30 cal mounted machine gun was absent from the proceedings.  No, all that seemed to remain were a few logie-looking booths and venders with various instruments of death and destruction, marked up by at least 15% to as high as 50% depending on whom you were dealing with, and how exotic the piece was.

But what had returned were the crowds.  In recent years the Biddeford Gun Show’s attendance has somewhat fallen off, which in turn, diminished the level of prestige of the participating venders.  The surge in populace this year seems to stem from the current Democratic Presidential Administration, and the fears that a black Democratic President will “any day now” pass legislation abolishing the Second Amendment and send federal law enforcement officers into the homes of every Red Blooded American who owns firearms to forcibly strip the weapons from their owners, and possibly march them to a cattle car to be shipped into the wilderness in the dead of night.

This and other mythoi were being exchanged amongst the crowd of surly late-middle-aged panic-mongers in attendance at the gun show.  As I weaved through the crowd examining table after table of weaponry I overheard a number of what some could consider outlandish accusations, rumors and innuendo from those who paid seven dollars to get their hand stamped at the door.

“Any day now, Obama’s going to raid our homes and take our guns away,” grumbled one gun owner in farm-chic clothing.  Another:  “We’re only as safe as we make ourselves, no one’s going to take that away from me!”

The crowd of about one thousand constantly seemed to be teetering on the edge of full blown riot, with tensions flowing with every disgruntled half-truth that was being uttered as (mostly) men fingered cheap Spanish-imports of cloned 1911-A1 .45 ACPs and grease-packed AK47s.  Overall the mood was dark, and if you tried to inject another point of view, shed of optimism if you will, you were seen at best as a simpleton, and at worst, a spy.

I found this out when I stupidly tried to bring to the attention of one show goer who I was 90% convinced was a member of either the Klu Klux Klan or the Hell’s Angels that Mr. Obama has a little too much on his plate to deal with the issue of Second Amendment Rights at the moment, especially concerning the economy, filling out the rest of his cabinet, partisan politics, and that whole “Middle East Thing.”  I tried to assure the barbarian that if the issue was ever going to be approached, that number one, it wouldn’t be at least until the far side of two years from now, and number two, there’s far too much support against anti-firearms legislation in the country to make a significant impact on the individual gun owner.  Similar to anti-abortion, -gay rights, and -marijuana legislation, the laws enacted would be far too controversial, and no elected official would dare disenfranchise at least half of his electoral base.

“What are you?  One of those statistic-spewing faggots?”  Said the Klansman-Biker, who then worked up enough phlegm in his throat to convince me he was going to hock it into my face if I didn’t get enough room between me and him very quickly.

For the rest of the gun show I kept a very low profile.

Purchasing a firearm is still incredibly easy, despite what gun-owners in attendance would like the layperson to think.  Aside from the fact I was standing in the middle of a 100,000 square-foot converted ice arena, surrounded by tables and tables of guns with only one police officer standing duty by the front door, procuring a pistol, rifle, shotgun, authentic Nazi memorabilia from World War 2, or whatever you fancy is a matter of spending a few moments filling out a simple page of generic government paperwork (“no, I’m not a convicted felon,” and “no, I’m not addicted to any controlled substance, including marijuana” are actual questions with YES/NO boxes next to them.), submitting to a Federal Background Check through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and handing over a credit card to the federally licensed gun dealer to whom you’re giving your business to.

After haggling over the price of my Sig Sauer P230 .380 that I wanted to trade up to a Glock 19 9mm, as well as buying a new Remington 870 12 gauge shotgun (my father is moving to a trailer park in Florida later this summer, and asked if he could have my old Mossberg 500 for home defense), I tried to get the dealer to give me a “sweetheart deal” on an DPMS/Panther AR15 that he had listed for 1100 dollars.  I explained to him that being that the DPMS was a “flat top” receiver with no sights, I would have to go out and buy a sighting system at a cost of about 200-300 dollars.  I also brought up the point that I was already buying two guns off of him and if he wanted to move the products, he should cut me a deal.

He gave it some thought and came back with an offer of 950, a considerable mark down, but I figured he could do better.  On average, an AR15, which three years ago would have retailed for about 600 bucks, were going for between 975-1300 dollars at this gun show.  Getting him even below those numbers was a good deal, but I figured I had this guy on the ropes and he could go lower.

And I was right because he came down as low as 850 after a few more minutes of my complaining.  I then told him I didn’t want it and that I’d take just the pistol and shotgun, which seemed to piss him off a little (there were probably a dozen other customers standing right next to me who heard his generous offer of 850, who no doubt would sweep in on that deal after I walked away).  I realized that I had no real practical use for a high powered rifle in a dilapidated apartment complex, and that the likelihood of me shooting through our walls and into the apartment of one of the neighbors, although enticing, could cause greater legal ramifications for me down the line.

So I sat down in a metal folding chair and filled out the proper paper work.  And even though I accidentally omitted my social security number on the federal gun buyers form (I honestly usually put it down, as I’m inclined to believe that by not, if gives the BATF an excuse to deny my background request, even though it’s marked in bold letters that providing that information is completely OPTIONIONAL), less than five minutes after I put ass to chair, I was handing my credit card over to the dealer, and walking away with two highly lethal weapons that I could virtually do anything I wanted.

I just had to load them first.

I walked around the floor of the gun show a little longer and came to a booth that was selling re-loaded-at-home rounds and hefted a box of 9mms.  When the booth’s vendor told me that the box of 50-count bullets was going to cost me 25 dollars (usually a box – or “square” as it’s called in certain gun-circles – of 9mms goes for about 15-20 bucks, reloads less, obviously) I dropped the box along with my jaw and walked away.  The vender called after me, telling me that he had already sold two cases (roughly twenty boxes per case, and the case I plucked that one box out of was about down to three squares left) and would probably be sold out by tomorrow.

What he didn’t tell me was that there’s virtually no ammunition in Southern Maine at all.

Due to the fear and panic in Southern Maine, which is more “red state” than the rest of the traditionally “blue Maine” people have been buying and stockpiling ammunition in bulk at alarming and albeit, unsettling rates.  I had no clue that the case was so severe until later that afternoon, after leaving the gun show with two firearms and no ammo (making them two of the most expensive paper weights I’ve ever purchased) I headed over to the local Wal Mart, where previously I’ve bought ammo on the cheap, which is exactly what I told the ammo vender at the gun show.

Blinded by ignorance, I walked into the Wal Mart and headed back towards the Sporting Goods section.  The inside of the Wal Mart looked third-world: gutted, stripped of any semblance of that cheery yellow-smiley face conglomerate that once dominated Biddeford Crossing for the last fifteen or so years.  No, the monolith with her ever expanding parking lot seemed frail and decayed, shelving bare, what I imagine a Wal Mart in some remote part of Serbia would look like on a good day.

When I got to the Sporting Goods section I ran into another red-stater, dressed in a typical aggressively patriotic t shirt featuring wording about “colors” and “running” and a picture of a soaring eagle or something to that effect, buying a hunting license of some sort.

I don’t hunt, so I have no idea what game season is in vogue right now, but being that summer’s coming up, and Maine tends to get overpopulated with tourists during this time, something about a bald, big-eared, mouth breathing caveman buying a hunting license didn’t sit well with me.

As the clerk behind the counter diddled the register to print out the hunting license I wandered around the section looking for the display of bullets.  When I found the display, a large locked glass case, I stopped suddenly with confusion.  I turned to see if anyone was watching me, any employee that could help me, but I was alone.  So I went back to the clerk at the register and inquired with him as he finished up the total on the red-stater’s order.

“Excuse me, but are you guys like,” and I trailed off for a second.  The Budweiser-swilling tradesman was barking at his collection of children, aged 6-11, about five or six of them, and his gutturally sharp chunks of words took me off balance for a second.

“That’s strike one!” he snapped at one of his brood, who were horsing around by the register.  “One more strike and you’re not getting ice cream!”

I wanted to clear my throat and correct him, in front of his children, that you technically get three strikes, (based off of baseball or Family Feud rules) but I kept my mouth shut and went back to the clerk.

“Are you guys, like, renovating or something?  Because your ammo case back there is empty and I…” and the clerk cut me off.

“We can’t keep that shit in stock for more than a day.  We put out orders for handgun ammo, rifle ammo, you name it, at least once a week, and by the time it comes in, we have so much of the stuff on back order, that it’s all sold by the time the truck pulls up.”  Jesus, I thought, they’re hording all the goddamn bullets!

The red-stater decided to inject his opinion on the matter as well:

“It’s a real pain in the balls,” he started, his voice phlegmy and choked, as if he was speaking from underneath a boot across his windpipe.  “I’ve been buying online, you can’t get bullets anywhere, not the Wal Mart in Scarborough, the Cabelas, LL Beans, Dicks,” he went on.

I was shell shocked, in utter disbelief.  There had to be someplace I could readily buy bullets today, right now.  What if there was an emergency, and I needed to shoot someone TONIGHT!  Nothing is worse than an unloaded gun sitting by itself at home when you go out to a family restaurant with your wife and mother and spend the entire night alternating your field of view between the Red Sox/Yankees game on the tv over your head and the front door of the establishment, waiting for some barbarian to come barreling in to kill everyone on Margarita Two-fer Night.

The next morning I got up early-ish and took off on my motorcycle, with messenger bag slung around my shoulders, to try every conceivable store that would be selling ammunition.

The thought had occurred to me that I could just go back to the gun show and try my luck there.  I just didn’t want to pay out the nose for cheaply “remanufactured” bullets, given the price of admission is seven dollars, and the mark up on the ammo is about 100%.

So all morning I rode up and down US Rt 1, looking for a place that sold bullets.  I first pulled into the local Cabela’s monstrosity and found that they wouldn’t open until 10 am, which by then would be too late for me, as my mother committed me to helping my tacky aunt and uncle move “unwanted” furniture from my father’s place to their place.  So up the road I traveled still, finding myself at the Scarborough Wal Mart.

Mind you, I’m on a motorcycle, dressed in a black Kevlar jacket, black “murder” bandana around my neck, black messenger bag, black boots, black Oakley Flak Jacket HJXs, and my throat is all weird from the ride.  I stride into the Wal Mart and try to find the Sporting Goods section, but if you’ve ever been into a different Wal Mart than what you’re used to, you know that their store is SLIGHTLY laid out differently.

So after walking around a bit, I find the section and come across similar results.  I’m pretty dejected, but on my way out I find a stock girl- young, petite, blonde – with a clipboard, doing some sort of inventory.  I walk up to her and get her attention.  Immediately she’s intimidated by me; it’s all but written on her face in magic marker, so I lift my shades to my forehead so she can see I’m no threat.

“Hey, you got any ammunition out back?”  I ask.  Unbeknownst to me ahead of time, my voice comes out as if I’m Dirty Harry and I just found out my dog has rabies.  Her eyes develop a sheen of wetness and her lip trembles.  Her voice small, tinny:

“No, we’re all out,” I figured for this based on the evidence and snarl a little to myself.

“Mm, what about the Dick’s up the road?  Know anything about them?”  I unintentionally growl.

“No…” it’s like a stalking lion talking to a church mouse.

“Don’t worry,” I try to ease her obvious fear of this big biker looming over her, asking about affordable munitions.  “I’m not mad, I’m not going to kill anyone,” she lets a nervous smile slip out.  “…because I don’t have any bullets.”  Her smile fades quickly and I leave the store, watching my back on the road for the next few miles for police cars looking for a homicide-crazed lunatic on a motorbike.

I have similar results at the next few places I try, either they’re sold out or not open this early on a Sunday, and after running out of time, I head back to my mother’s house to help move furniture, which is like eating a big plate of glass shards for breakfast.

Later in the day I called what was going to be my “last resort” before being forced to pay for rounds at the gun show.  I used to work for the Kittery Trading Post, an Outdoor Outfitter in Southern Maine that I’m somewhat persona-non-grata with due to an incident in their parking lot that involved myself, a stalker, and the Kittery Police Department over two years ago.  They have a huge firearms selection, dedicating their entire second floor to just guns.  If they didn’t have ammunition I could buy, no one in Southern Maine would.

I called and after being batted around from associate to associate for ten minutes, I finally got a hold of someone on the gun floor.

“Hey, I’m trying to find 9mms, you guys got any in stock?”

“No, all we got on hand right now are .41 magnums and .22s, we can’t keep anything in stock for more than a day,” the associate said into the phone.  “Once word gets out, we get nailed.  We had a shipment of ammo on Friday and we were just about sold out last night.  You’re best bet is online,”

In the end, I went back to the gun show and bought an overpriced box of 9mms, but only because I didn’t want to travel without a loaded gun.  And to add another element of horror to my story, I thought the ammo-epidemic was contained in Maine and other-like minded ignorant locales.  No.  It’s not.

When I we finally got back to The Hook, I logged on to a few different sites that specialize in “hunting accessories” to see if I could purchase ammunition in bulk, only falling into my fellow statesmen’s hysteria half way, more concerned that the ammo crunch will continue to make getting rounds in the future difficult.  Three of the four sites I visited had handgun ammo on backorder, and another had some available, but it wasn’t anything special, just Full Metal Jacketed bullets at 115 grain.

So in the end, what does this mean?  It means I’m going to call Charles Schwab later today and buy stock in Winchester, American Federal, and UCM.

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February 11, 2010 - Posted by | Around The Office, Living in an Insane Asylum, Those Crazy Politicians, World Wide Events | , ,

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